The First Sunday after Epiphany
Pastor George Pejakovich
Matthew 3:13-17

EVERY TIME WE GET TO CELEBRATE THE EPIPHANY, WE ALL ENJOY SEEING THE KIDS, AND THEIR PARENTS, MAKE THE GRAND PROCESSION AND ACT OUT THE COMING OF THE MAGI TO THE CHRIST CHILD. THEY LOOK SO ADORABLE ALL DRESSED UP IN FANCY CLOTHES, BRINGING THEIR GIFTS OF GOLD, FRANKENSENCE, AND MYRR, AND THERE ARE SMILES ON EVERY FACE IN THE CATHEDRAL. IT’S A WONDERFUL LITTLE STORY TO ACT OUT, AND LENDS A JOYFUL ASPECT TO OUR CELEBRATION. NOW, HOWEVER, WE NEED TO LOOK AT THE ADULT RATED VERSION OF THE STORY, WHICH, RATHER THAN BEING AN ENTERTAINING INTERLUDE, IS FULL OF PROFOUND THEOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE.

FIRST OF ALL, WE DON’T KNOW HOW MANY THEY WERE. THE IDEA THAT THERE WERE THREE COMES FROM THE NUMBER OF GIFTS PRESENTED TO THE CHRIST CHILD. THE EASTERN CHURCH CLAIMS THAT THERE WERE TWELVE. THEN, THE IDEA THAT THEY WERE KINGS IS A MEDIEVAL ADDITION TO THE STORY. WE DON’T REALLY KNOW WHERE THEY CAME FROM, OTHER THAN THEY CAME FROM THE EAST. THEIR INTERPRETATION OF THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STAR MENT THEY WERE EXPERTS IN ASTROLOGY, THE SCIENCE OF THE TIME, SO WERE PROBABLY FROM PERSIA. THE ACCOUNT OF THEIR GOING TO JERUSALEM TO LOOK FOR THE NEW BORN KING, SHOWS THAT THEY WERE NOT WELL VERSED IN THE OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECIES OF THE MESSIAH, SO THEY WERE PROBABLY ZOROASTERANS, WHO HELD THAT THE SUN AND FIRE WERE THE SIGNS OF THE DIVINITY. WE KNOW ONLY THAT THEY WERE CALLED MAGI, THE RELIGIOUS CAST OF THE MEDES AND THE PERSIANS.

MATTHEW’S TELLING OF THE STORY IS A LOT DARKER THAN OUR USUAL JOYFUL CELEBRATION, AND IS FULL OF THE TENSIONS AND CONFLICTS THAT THE COMING OF THE MESSIAH BRINGS TO THE WORLD. THEY COME LOOKING FOR HE WHO IS BORN KING OF THE JEWS, AND THE NEXT TIME WE HEAR THIS TITLE IS WHEN IT IS POSTED BY PILATE ABOVE THE CROSS OF JESUS. THEIR COMING TO JERUSALEM TO SEEK THE NEW BORN KING IS UNDERSTANDABLE, FOR WHERE ELSE WOULD ONE FIND A KING BUT IN THE ROYAL PALACE. YET THEIR COMING SPARKS FEAR AND TURMOIL, NOT ONLY IN THE HEART OF HEROD, BUT IN ALL JERUSALEM, BECAUSE EVERYONE WAS AFRAID OF WHAT HEROD MIGHT DO TO HANG ONTO POWER. THE PRIESTS AND THE SCRIBES SCRAMBLED IN FEAR TO SEEK IN THE SCRIPTURES THAT WHICH THEY SHOULD ALREADY HAVE KNOWN, AND THEY FEARFULLY TELL HEROD THAT THE CHILD MUST HAVE BEEN BORN IN BETHLEHEM. HEROD INQUIRED OF THE MAGI WHEN THEY FIRST SAW THE STAR, TO CALCULATE THE TIME OF THEIR JOURNEY AND, THUS, THE AGE OF THIS SUPPOSED KING, ALREADY PLANNING HOW TO RID HIMSELF OF THIS THREAT TO HIS POWER AND POSITION.

THE DARKNESS OF THIS ACCOUNT IS A GREAT CONTRAST TO LUKE’S TELLING OF THE BIRTH OF JESUS, WHICH IS WHY WE READ LUKE AT CHRISTMAS, AND THE STORY IS FULL OF CONTRASTS. THE FEARFUL SCRAMBLING OF THE ROYAL COURT IS CONTRASTED BY THE PEACEFUL VISION OF THE CHRIST CHILD BORN IN A STABLE AND LYING IN A MANGER. THE SO CALLED WISE PRIESTS AND SCRIBES WHO DON’T KNOW THE WRITTEN PROPHECIES OF THE COMING OF THE CHRIST IS CONTRASTED BY THESE PAGANS WHO CAN READ THE SIGN OF THE COMING OF THE TRUE KING IN THE STARS. THE PLOTTING OF HEROD IN JERUSALEM IS CONTRASTED BY THE WORSHIPFUL PROSTRATION OF THE MAGI AT THE FEET OF THE GENTLE CHILD AND HIS MOTHER. THERE ARE IN FACT TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS DEPICTED IN THIS LITTLE STORY; THIS LIFE AS IT IS, FULL OF STRIFE, AND POWER, AND FEAR, AND THE NEW LIFE THAT THE BIRTH OF THIS CHILD BRINGS INTO THIS WORLD.

THAT IS WHAT IS AT THE HEART OF MATTHEW’S DARKER, MORE ADULT ORIENTED STORY OF THE BIRTH OF JESUS; THE PROMISE AND THE PROCLAMATION THAT IT IS PRECISELY THIS WORLD THAT GOD CAME TO, TO THIS PEOPLE SO MASTERED BY FEAR THAT WE SO OFTEN DO THE UNTHINKABLE TO EACH OTHER, TO THIS PEOPLE THAT GOD LOVES BUT WHO DO NOT DESERVE HIS LOVE. TO THIS WORLD AND TO THIS PEOPLE WHO HAVE THIS VAST NEED THAT WE CAN NOT ADDRESS, YET WHICH GOD HIMSELF SUPPLIES. JESUS IS EMMANUEL, GOD WITH US, THE LIVING, BREATHING, AND VULNERABLE PROMISE THAT GOD CHOSE TO COME AND LIVE WITH US AND DIE FOR US, JUST AS WE ARE, SO THAT IN CHRIST’S RESURRECTION, WE, TOO, MIGHT EXPERIENCE NEWNESS OF LIFE.

TODAY WE ALSO CELEBRATE THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD, WHICH IS FITTING BECAUSE, AS THE BIRTH OF THE TRUE KING WAS REVEALED TO THOSE MEN FROM THE EAST, THE TRUE SON OF GOD WAS REVEALED TO JOHN AND TO US IN THE WATERS OF THE JORDAN. IN OUR BAPTISM, WE ARE TIED TO HIS BAPTISM, AND, BY THIS UNBREAKABLE LINK, WE ARE GIVEN THE NEW LIFE HIS BIRTH, LIFE, DEATH, AND RESURRECTION BROUGHT INTO THIS WORLD. EMMANUEL IS STILL WITH US, IN THE WATERS OF BAPTISM, AND IN THE PRESENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT WITH US AND IN US TROUGH OUR BAPTISM. ON THIS DAY, THE LOVING GRACE OF OUR GOD AND KING WILL BE REVEALED TO US ONCE AGAIN AS LITTLE ARLO BLANKENSHIP RECEIVES THE GIFTS OF GOD IN HIS BAPTISM. AT TEN MONTHS OLD, HIS LIFE NOW BEGINS ANEW, FOR IN THE WATERS OF GRACE HE WILL BECOME A CHILD OF GOD AND A FULL CITIZEN OF THAT NEW KINGDOM WHICH STANDS IN CONTRAST TO ALL THE KINGDOMS OF THIS WORLD.

THE NEW KINGDOM OF GOD’S LOVE WAS REVEALED ON THAT FIRST EPIPHANY TO THE MAGI FROM THE EAST, AND IT IS REVEALED TO US AGAIN AND AGAIN, AS WE LIVE THE NEW LIFE GIVEN TO US IN CHRIST, AND WILL BE ONE DAY REVEALED IN ALL ITS FULLNESS WHEN WE ARE RAISED TO STAND WITH OUR GOD AND KING. AMEN

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